A Meditation for Maundy Thursday

Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, the day on which the Church recalls the Last Supper and Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet, and recalls Judas’s betrayal and Jesus’s arrest. In order to put my thoughts and heart in a frame appropriate for these days, I have been reading the gospel accounts of the last days of Christ on earth today, and have been reflecting particularly on the words Jesus choses in these narratives.

One of the most striking and revealing moments of the day before Jesus’ crucifixion is the moment in which he is betrayed by his own friend and follower, Judas. Henry Scougal, in his marvelous 18th century work, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, recalls the interaction between Jesus and his betrayer in this way: “And what shall I speak of [Jesus’] meekness, who could encounter the monstrous ingratitude and dissimulation of that miscreant who betrayed him, in no harsher terms than these: ‘Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?'”

In other words, the reaction of Jesus to his betrayal exemplifies, in an extraordinary way, his unparalleled humility. Jesus performed miracles, spoke words of hope, healed the sick and the lame, and spoke of his coming Kingdom and imminent victory over death on behalf of all his people – all in Judas’s presence. In light of what he saw and knew, Judas’s betrayal was unspeakably evil. It was an unspeakable affront to Christ’s goodness. It was unspeakably deserving of Jesus’ vehement rebuke and condemnation. And yet these are the words that Jesus chose to spoke to this man: “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” “Friend, do what you came to do (Luke 22:28, Matt 26:49).

No person in history has ever had more cause for anger and spitefulness in the face of such treachery and deceit. May we pray for the grace to exhibit such humility and peaceableness in the face of betrayal and affront.

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